Two years ago I took an upper undergraduate/graduate course which I passed with a good grade. Sadly I missed many of the lectures, did few of the suggested exercises and managed mostly by cramming a few days before the exam.

To little surprise but to my great regret, I have now forgotten quite a lot of the material. I cannot formally retake the course, but I have considered attending the lectures and work through the exercises, while not handing in any work. Would the professor, who taught the course the last time I took it, frown upon this? Would he question the grade he gave me and or consider me to be a poor student for forgetting so quickly.

  • 7
    What's your school's policy on auditing classes? Usually, if there's space it isn't a problem; check with the lecturer to be sure.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 13:34
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    @keshlam: Most lectures are open even to the public, but registered students have, of course, priority if there shouldn't be enough space. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 13:51
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    I did exactly that a while back. I talked to the professor, explicitly said that I didn't remember the stuff from the course, but I wanted to. He laughed, mocked me a bit and agreed. Honestly, he was glad someone wanted to know... Of course, he is a great guy, I can't guarantee it is going to be the same for your, but that was my experience... Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:56
  • You might also check to see if your university offers supplementary instruction lectures or tutoring for the course you want a refresher on. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 18:34
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    This depends entirely on your university's policies so we can't answer it here. Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 10:16

4 Answers 4


At least I would not discourage anyone from sitting through a course again. The notion that one has permanent and total recall of almost anything is untenable: one must review and rethink (or use) periodically, or things fade away from disuse. For that matter, there are usually several layers of understanding/appreciation, and getting to the subtler ones takes time and (re-)thought.

Perhaps you'll be better off than others who got their grades and don't even realize that they'd benefit from re-thinking the material.

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    Asking to sit on on lectures when you already have a pass grade is likely to stoke the ego a bit so go ahead and ask, the professor can st the worst say no
    – Stevetech
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 19:02
  • @Stevetech, heh, or else the instructor will be happy that the student finally started catching-on to realities! :) Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 19:20
  • Win win either way
    – Stevetech
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 19:21
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    If nothing else, I've wanted to sit through some intro classes with the benefit of hindsight and other classes to see how my experience of it would change.
    – Fomite
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 21:01
  • @Stevetech: At my university, pretty much anyone (student or not) is welcome to attend any lecture. I'm not sure whether or not any law actually requires that, but I wouldn't be surprised if some did (at least for public universities). In any event, I don't see any reasonable cause for a professor to mind extra listeners at the lecture, as long as they don't disturb the actual students (or leave them without seats! though in that case, he'd better look for a bigger room to lecture in).
    – tomasz
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 21:45

I don't think the professor would frown upon this (although certainly ask) or question the grade he gave you earlier.

One question I think is relevant is whether it's worth your time to attend the lectures again. Since you already took the course, I would imagine that you already have the exercises, the syllabus, etc. As such, perhaps you could simply work on the exercises yourself and refer to reading material (prior lecture notes, textbook chapters, etc) whenever you get stuck. If the class meets 3 hours a week, you can then apply this time to solving problems and focusing on what you really didn't understand the first time rather than listening to things with which you may be more comfortable. This method of targeted "relearning" of material that I have forgotten from past courses has served me well in the past, and it's a nice skill to develop for whenever you need to learn a new topic without taking a formal course.

Of course, this comes down to personal preference. If you have the time and motivation to sit through a course again, then by all means do it.

  • Thank you for your answer! I think I'll have the time, but I might still consider following your suggestion. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 13:52

I would say it is generally up to the instructor. If the class involves things like "labs" being done, where you use up materials or there is some sort of preparation needed, your likelihood of approval may be reduced. However, for just sitting through lectures, I wouldn't mind (as a college instructor).

When I was an instructor, my job was to share knowledge, and help students to become skilled. If some previous student wanted exposure to my lectures again, I would have no objection as long as it isn't causing any problem, such as depriving any of my currently-enrolled students (who currently have higher priority to my resources) by imposing a reduction in their experience. The more common alternative is that a previous student would rather spend time playing video games than re-visiting a class when such visits are not required. If a student chooses to invest in improving their skill, that is only likely to be a good thing (for me, for the university, for the student, for the students' employers).

One thing I would be cautious about doing is to be very wary about asking questions mid-class if you are out-of-the-loop and not a formal student. However, I remember visiting my mother during a Pre-calculus class, and noticing an error made by the instructor. I raised my hand (as a non-student) and asked a question which helped the instructor to recognize the error, and the instructor thanked me. It was an entirely positive experience, but it was a bit of a gamble because some instructors would not like that.

I would probably try to not interact with the instructor, unless the instructor initiates the interaction (by calling my name, specifically). For instance, I would not try to to help the instructor move the class along, by having me ask a bunch of questions when I have an idea of how the instructor will respond. As a visitor, I have a different role, which is often to be rather invisible.

Whether the instructor questions, to himself/herself, about the grade given, is not likely a concern of yours, if the instructor only teaches beginner-level classes and you're unlikely to have the instructor again. Changing a grade may be a significant bureaucratic headache, even if it is just a few days later (and maybe even if it is done before the grades are due, once the instructor submitted the first time). An instructor is unlikely to change a grade over a minor reason, like changing an opinion of how much you deserved. (Although, if there is a clear actionable reason, such as responding to fraud, the instructors may be more inclined, perhaps in part because there may be a clear policy that is less painful to the instructor.) So long as you were honest, you probably don't need to worry about your prior grade.

The reason why Fábio Dias's instructor laughed was probably the admission of not remembering stuff. There might be classier ways of saying "I'm interested in being exposed to the material again", especially something like being a TA. Of course, a lot of the precise details will vary between different instructors, and differences in institution (university) policies/cultures might also have some influence.

  • I think "chuckled" is a more appropriate description. And yes, I think that was the reason too... Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 21:21

Recommendation: be honest with the professor and admit that you didn't take the course seriously last time. If you do that here is what I would expect to be the answers to your questions.

Would he question the grade he gave me? Possibly. But it's very unlikely that he would be so bothered that he would want to change your grade; and even if he did want to, he probably can't at this stage.

[Would he] consider me to be a poor student for forgetting so quickly? Maybe. But he would also, most likely, consider you to be a good student for taking an interest in the subject, recognising the problem, and trying to get it fixed.

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